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The Life-or-Death Stakes of 911 Interpreting

Imagine your house is on fire. You frantically dial 911, but the operator hangs up because you spoke in Spanish. A terrifying thought, right? Unfortunately, this may have happened to Heriberto Santiago Jr. of Allentown, Pennsylvania on July 27, 2020.

 

Former 911 dispatchers have filed a lawsuit claiming that the operator who answered the call made no effort to connect with a translation service. As a result, Santiago and his nephew died in a house fire. The lawsuit goes on to allege that discrimination against Spanish speakers was a common practice at Lehigh County’s emergency call center. And while the country solicitor has dismissed the claim, the incident highlights the need for 911 interpreters.

 

The Vital Role of 911 Interpreters

 

Had the operator connected with a 911 interpreter, Santiago and his nephew may have survived. Santiago could have explained that his three story-home was on fire, and that he needed firefighters to arrive right away. Yet two people lost their lives partly because of a language barrier.

 

However, not just anyone who is bilingual can fulfill the role. 911 interpreters are actually specialized medical interpreters who undergo training to assist during these high-stakes calls. They must learn how to remain calm and accurately communicate in even the most stressful situations.

 

911 Interpreters at Boostlingo

 

Beyond language skills and nerves of steel, independent 911 interpreters who join our Boostlingo Professional Interpreters Network (BPIN) must meet the following requirements:

 

  • A minimum of 60 hours of medical interpreter training.
  • A minimum of three years of medical interpreting experience.
  • Completion of required continuing education units (CEUs).
  • Evidence of current HIPAA compliance, which must be updated every two years.

 

Interpreters must also follow our established protocol. Here’s how it works: someone makes an emergency call, and it’s routed to the requested language and type. The interpreter then answers the call with the greeting, “Hello my name is NAME and my ID number is NUMBER, and I am your language interpreter. How may I help you?”

 

If you’d like to learn more about the process, check out our blog Taking Emergency Calls: A Spotlight on 911 Interpreters.

 

Partner with Us

 

As you can see, 911 interpreters play an essential role in any jurisdiction’s emergency service. Providing an interpreter can make the difference between life or death when someone calls for assistance. Because of this, the interpreters in our BPIN network are among the best in the industry.

 

Want to learn more about how we can assist your emergency call center? Contact us today!

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